Torah Portion: Shoftim (Judges) Deut. 16:18-21:9 HafTorah: Isaiah 51:12-52:12

This Torah section, Shoftim, occurs in the first Sabbath of the month of Elul. The first day of Elul was yesterday. It is seen as a month of repentance, a sanctuary in time for a person to have a dedicated length of time to examine his/her life in a concentrated way. A time where they can turn from their sins and missed opportunities and dedicate themselves to a renewed and closer walk with the Father. Of course we have the avenue of repentance and renewal available at any time. However this month brings our lives front and center for an extended period. So, I pray we each can and will take this time to lay everything open before the Throne and renew our relationship between us and our Father and between us and anyone we might have issues with in our lives

The month of Elul is also the preparation month preceding the Moadim or Fall Feasts of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. The name of the month Elul (in Hebrew) forms an acronym for the words in the verse in Song of Songs 6:3, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Another interesting thing about the word “moadim” is that it can mean to “betroth” or “engage for marriage”. These two points give us a clue to how G-d views these days. These are days of intimacy, of communication, revelation, of putting G-d first, and making te’shuva (return, to turn back away from sin). When we realize that our G-d prepared these Holy Days at the beginning of time to point us to our need for Him, to allow us to have a relationship with Him and ultimately that our Messiah would fulfill these feasts then we can rejoice in His goodness. 

1.In Deut. 16:18-19 we read the commandment to set up judges and officers in all of the towns.  These judges and officers were to rule with righteous judgments over the people in matters that arose between people. What are some of the principles of justice set out in these verses? Why do you think the Israelites were never to resort to a Gentile court? Where in the Messianic scripture did Paul warn one of the churches in how to settle matters of justice?

            Verse 18            Righteous judgment, is competent and impartial

            Verse 19            Not perverting justice,  the word also means to twist  or bend

            Verse 19            Not be a respecter of person, everyone must be treated the same

            Verse 19            Does not accept a bribe

They were to rule according to G-d’s law. The Jews were never to resort to a Gentile court which would have little or no knowledge about G-d’s laws. Other Gentile courts would not hand down rulings based on Torah but based on their own system. In I Cor. 6:1-6 we read where Paul uses the same reasoning when speaking to the church at Corinth admonishing them to not go before unbelievers to decide a matter of justice. Why, for the same reason. So early believers were urged to follow the pattern of their roots on this question of judges.

2.Hebrew uses the same root word for justice and righteousness. In the Messianic scripture the Greek word can also be translated as either. So, what does this connection tell us? To be just is to be righteous. G-d is totally righteous and also totally just. When He passes out justice we can be assured that His justice is a picture of His righteousness. G-d sets up a system here that emulates His character.

However, since this is the month of repentance, can repentance sway an earthly judge? He must judge on what his eye can see. We may be sorry for what we did but we still must be judged by an earthly court on what the facts are. But, our Father in Heaven can take repentance into account. He looks at our heart and knows if it is true repentance or not. Only G-d can see a man’s heart. We may be able to sway people on an earthly court but G-d knows our heart. Which brings us to repentance. What is repentance? It is a turning around from what we were doing and going in a different direction. But there is a second step. We quit what we were doing and change our behavior. This is what G-d looks at and sometime only He can see the truth. However, to emulate this quality of G-d we must try to look at a person not just in a context of one event but how does he or she live their life after repentance. We often do exactly the opposite. We are quick to judge and slow to forgive. We must, to be like G-d, look at a person in their totality. Does their life show a change and if so we go on and encourage them as G-d encourages us.

3.Now, to a deeper level of Deut. 16:18, What could the Torah be saying to us today? What are the gates to our own personal city? I think the Torah is urging us to guard what enters our eyes, ears and eventually our minds. Job 31:1 says, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” Those things that enter our city will influence us for good or for evil. We are the gate keeper. We decided what enters and what is left outside. It is like our house. Do we just leave the front door open so anyone or anything can come in? I doubt it. So we should be with our minds. It is a lot harder to get rid of something that enters our city than it is to not allow it in in the first place. Our battle is to make sure whatever comes in does so because it meets G-d’s criteria and does not sneak in or is let in in some weak moment. Our filters are different than the worlds and will be the watchmen at the gates of our minds. Proverbs 4:23-26 puts it very well when it talks about guarding our heart. II Cor 10:3-5 says to take every thought captive.

4.Look at Deut. 20:19. In my translation it reads, “for the tree of the field is man’s food.” However in Hebrew it reads, “Man is a tree of the field.” So, what are we to make of this? How are we trees of the field? In Psalms 1:3 David compares a righteous man to a tree with fruit and leaves that don’t wither. Why? Because it is connected to its life source – water. How do we not wither and turn brown? We do it by staying connected to our life source – the living G-d who through Yeshua nourishes us daily. And as this tree bears fruit so must we. (John 15:2,6) This can only happen as we stay connected to our source. In fact the Torah says non- fruit bearing trees are to be cut down and used to lay siege to a city. In these verses of John Yeshua says the same things. So we are to be trees who reproduce good fruit, our leaves are to stay green, and our roots should be strong and deep. All of these hearken back to this verse.

5.Deut. 18:13 reads, “Be wholehearted with your G-d.” What does this mean to us today? If you noticed right before this statement the Torah speaks to us of those things to avoid like, a soothsayer, a diviner of times, sorcerer and one who interprets omens.” What do all of these have in common? 

All these things we are to avoid deal with the future, what will be, what to do. Then our verse follows. So what does it say to us? In our world today many people seek out some way to know the future, what is coming. When is it coming???? People have a preoccupation with what is yet to come. We expend tremendous amounts of time and effort worrying about what will be, what tomorrow holds. We expend energy trying to secure what can’t be secured. Here Moses tells us to be wholehearted with G-d. In other words, the future is His and we accept what He brings into our lives. We stand on our faith in Him and our knowledge that He has our good ever before Him. Matthew 6:34 tells us not to worry about tomorrow. G-d is already there. He is in perfect control. To be wrapped up in worry about the future could be the same as saying our trust is conditional, trusting only in the good times. If G-d were to speak to you right now and invited you to live in His presence, would you first ask Him where He plans on taking you? We should strive to make our trust in Him unconditional. He is with us. He is running the show and that is all we need to know.